27 Nov 2023, 11:00

Global surveys show people’s growing concern about climate change

Polls show that climate change has become a key concern for a majority of people across the globe. However, views about personal impacts or on how to tackle the global challenge differ widely. Some call for more ambition, others criticise that their country is asked too much. This factsheet captures people’s views about various aspects of climate change by summarising the findings of major polls that either solely focus on it or carry questions about it. [UPDATE: adds 2 polls, one from Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and one from Edelman]

Global polls on climate change

Governments across the globe increasingly put action to tackle climate change at the top of their agenda. People’s opinions, whether for or against action on pressing issues such as climate change, play a crucial role in political mobilisation, and consequentially in policy actions. Understanding how people in various parts of the world perceive climate change and the associated urgency helps gauge global political will to tackle climate change and provides crucial background information on regional hurdles to or drivers of a climate-friendly transition.

For a global challenge that demands a globally coordinated response, people’s opinions about local, national and international climate politics and policies are relevant. Global surveys about climate change also provide a rare opportunity to understand how various factors, such as geographical location, education or income level, come into play to build people’s perceptions.

Surveys reviewed in this factsheet indicate that people generally agree that climate change is happening, and it is one of the most pressing concerns across the globe. At the same time, a stark difference of opinions about how to distribute responsibilities among people from various parts of the world emerges. This clash of opinions mirrors the conflict between advanced and developing economies in international climate politics. The developing economies, which tend to be more vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, demand that the industrially advanced countries, which have historically contributed a higher share of global emissions, take more responsibility and support them in their climate change-related transition.

Climate change is an important issue for people across the globe

Several global surveys highlight that a significant majority of people consider climate change a serious concern. In the United Nations Development Program’s 2021 Peoples’ Climate Vote survey, which the organisation said was the largest public opinion survey on climate change ever conducted, nearly two-thirds (64%) of the 1.2 million respondents found that "climate change is a global emergency." The survey asked respondents in 50 countries, representing 56 percent of the world population.

The sentiments observed also resonated with other major surveys. The Open Society Foundation survey attempted to understand major issues impacting people across the globe. When asked to rank “the most important challenges facing the world“ in the survey’s second edition in 2023, the respondents identified ‘climate change‘ and ‘poverty/inequality‘ as the most important challenges. Over three-quarters of the respondents to the OECD’s 2022 survey, which explored international attitudes towards climate policies, agreed that “climate change is an important problem.“ The 20 surveyed countries in the OECD poll accounted for over 72 percent of global CO2 emissions.

The most recent climate-focused Edelman Trust Barometer survey in fourteen countries reveals that 93 percent of respondents believe that “climate change poses a serious and imminent threat to the planet”. Of those, half said they had come to this realisation over time, whereas 43 percent said they had always believed in the threat.

There is a growing concern about climate change and its impacts

People across the world are confronted with the changing climate through their personal exposure to unusual and extreme weather patterns, eroding ecosystems or increased frequency of natural disasters. A growing number of climate change-driven incidents is shaping how people perceive climate change and the related threats. Recurring global polls about climate change provide a unique opportunity to understand how people’s points of view evolve.

Pew Research Center’s annual Global Attitudes survey shows that the share of people across the world who consider climate change a “major threat” has been steadily growing. In 2014, 54 percent (average of all surveyed countries) were of this opinion. The average jumped to 62 percent in 2017 and to 71 percent in 2022, showcasing the rapid change in people’s perceptions. The group of countries surveyed in these three years varied slightly, influencing the average of each year.

The Ipsos Global Trends survey, which is conducted at the beginning of each year, likewise reveal the changing perceptions of climate change.

At an average 80 percent, respondents in 50 countries to the 2023 Global Trends survey agreed that “We are heading towards an environmental disaster unless we change our habits quickly.“ The polls indicate that people in developing economies are more concerned about environmental degradation, including the effects of climate change. Over 90 percent of respondents from Indonesia, Zambia and Vietnam expressed concern.

The 2023 Global Trends survey also provides granular insights into how threat perception varies across socio-demographic groups. Overall, the survey shows that age, employment status and gender do not drastically influence how threat is perceived. Respondents with higher education and with higher income are slightly more concerned. This survey pattern is also coherent with the findings of the UNDP’s Peoples’ Climate Vote.

Higher climate change-related risks lead to a higher level of threat perception

The global polls deliver a clear verdict that people across the globe consider climate change to be a serious concern, but how people perceive the imminence and urgency surrounding the climate crisis varies across countries. Multiple polls, including the Ipsos Global Trends mentioned above, indicate that a higher share of respondents from developing economies believe that climate change is a crisis that impacts them on a personal level.

Over 60 percent of people in developing economies, such as the Philippines, Colombia and Mexico, and only 20 percent of people in developed economies, such as Norway and the Netherlands, consider the personal impact of climate change imminent, the 2023 International Monetary Fund’s Public Perceptions of Climate Mitigation Policies survey showed.

The responses in the Open Society Foundation’s 2023 survey and Ipsos’s 2022 survey for the World Economic Forum also provide evidence to substantiate that correlation. In climate vulnerable countries, such as Bangladesh (90%), Kenya (83%), Ethiopia (83%) and India (82%), more people are “anxious that climate change could have a negative impact on them and their livelihoods in the next year“ than in Germany (69%), the USA (56%) and China (54%). In the World Economic Forum’s Climate Change: severity of effects and expectations of displacement survey, a higher share of respondents in countries such as India (65%), Turkey (64%), Malaysia (49%) and Brazil (49%) believed that they or their families “will be displaced from home in the next 25 years.” In the 34 surveyed countries, a lower percentage of respondents – 25 percent in Germany, 23 percent in Poland, 17 percent in Sweden, 21 percent in Argentina and 21 percent in the Netherlands – believed that they were exposed to climate change-related displacement risks.

People call for climate action, but remain divided regarding international cooperation and responsibility

Overall, a majority of people are demanding climate action. On average, 80 percent of people in each country participating in the OECD’s 2022 survey focused on international attitudes towards climate policies said that “their country should fight climate change.“ Similarly, on average, 66 percent of people in 29 countries in the 2023 Ipsos Earth Day poll agreed that “their country should do more in the fight against climate change.“

However, a different picture emerges when the respondents are asked for opinions about their country's responsibility and efforts to tackle climate change from an international perspective.

The 2023 Ipsos Earth Day poll asked respondents in 29 countries whether “their country is being asked to sacrifice too much to tackle climate change.” A significant share of respondents in both developed economies (an average of 30% in the 17 developed countries surveyed) and developing economies (an average of 38% in the 12 countries surveyed) share this sentiment.

On average, 70 percent of respondents in the 29 countries surveyed in the 2023 Ipsos Earth Day poll overwhelmingly agreed that the “developed countries should do more to combat climate change.” While support for the above statement was the lowest in developed economies, such as Canada (62%), the Netherlands (61%), the United States (58%) or Japan (58%), the majority of respondents in all the countries surveyed agreed to this statement.

The responses to the Open Society Foundation's survey question of whether “high-income countries should take the lead in reducing global greenhouse emissions” matched those of the Earth Day survey. With a global country average of 79 percent, respondents acknowledged the developed economies’ responsibilities. Support here was the lowest – 59 percent – in Germany.

While there is an overwhelming consensus that the industrialised economies should pay more and take the lead in fighting climate change, people still want all countries to contribute to these efforts. When asked “Which countries do you think should be paying to reduce carbon emissions?” in the International Monetary Fund’s Public Perceptions of Climate Mitigation Policies survey, more than 50 percent of respondents in all 28 countries surveyed chose “all countries.” The global average of countries in support of the “all countries” option stood at 64 percent against an average 20 percent for “only rich countries.” In the same survey, there was significantly higher support (47%) for the “countries paying to reduce carbon emissions based on their current emissions” option than for the “countries paying to reduce carbon emissions based on their past emissions” option (32%).

The 100-billion dollar climate finance pledge

In various international agreements, developed countries have acknowledged their role in driving climate change and committed to supporting developing economies in climate change-related transitions. The 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) formalised the commitment and put forward the framework of 'common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR)', which acknowledges that developed countries, with their historical emissions, have a responsibility to support developing economies in fighting climate change. At the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) in 2009, industrialised countries formally pledged to collectively mobilise 100 billion U.S. dollars in climate finance annually for developing economies. The commitment to supporting developing economies in their climate change-related transition was also a central element of subsequent climate agreements, including the 2015 Paris AgreementAccording to OECD reports analysing the commitments, in the year 2020, 83.3 billion dollars were mobilised, which fell short of the commitment. 

Another contentious issue that continues to dominate the international climate negotiations is the compensation for irreversible and unavoidable climate change-led 'loss and damages'. Developing economies, which disproportionately bear the adverse impact of climate change, have been demanding compensation from developed countries, which have disproportionately produced climate change-driving emissions.

An average 71 percent of respondents in the 30 countries surveyed by the  Open Society Foundations agreed that “high-income countries should take the lead on compensating low-income countries for economic losses caused by climate change.” An large majority of respondents from developing and climate-vulnerable countries agree, while support for this option was modest in Japan (53%), the UK (52%), Ukraine (52%), Germany (47%) and Russia (44%).

Along with these contentious issues, the 2022 edition of the climate change-focused Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that there is widespread concern that foreign countries will not stick to their climate targets. On average, 65 percent of respondents from 14 countries said they worry that other countries will not live up to their climate promises. Most scepticism was observed in China (82%). Distrust grew most significantly in Japan (+11pp), Brazil (+10pp), Germany (+8pp), and France (+7pp).

How do we tackle this issue?

To understand the factors that influence people’s views on the various climate policies, the International Monetary Fund’s Public Perceptions of Climate Mitigation Policies survey asked questions about the perception of the policies’ ‘effectiveness’, the ‘costs and benefits’ associated with the policies, as well as about their ‘fairness’.

In 28 countries, the same IMF survey attempted to gauge the public’s perception of three climate policies: carbon pricing, regulations limiting emissions, and subsidies for low-carbon technologies and renewable energy. With an average across countries of 62 percent, ‘subsidies for low-carbon technologies’ received the strongest support. ‘Carbon pricing’ and ‘regulations limiting emissions’ received the support of 49.8 percent and 46.8 percent of respondents, respectively.

Public knowledge about the effectiveness and impact of policies is a key factor in perception formation, especially for policies that tend to elicit lower public support. The IMF survey found that the respondents’ ‘prior knowledge’ was most modest about ‘carbon pricing’.

Support for all three policies surveyed was perceptibly stronger in the developing economies than in the developed countries. Support for these policies was strongest in the Asian countries and weakest in the European countries.

A similar trend was also observed in the 2023 Ipsos Earth Day survey. Asked whether they “would pay more of (their) income in taxes than (they) currently do to help prevent climate change,” the highest shares of positive responses were recorded in India (64%), Thailand (48%), Indonesia (42%) and Turkey (42%) and the lowest in Italy (22%), Canada (20%), Hungary (17%), Belgium (16%) and Japan (12%).

Understanding public support for climate action was also one of the main goals of the UNDP’s Peoples’ Climate Vote global poll. Of the 18 climate policies surveyed, ‘conserve forests and land’ (54%), ‘use solar, wind and renewable power’ (53%) and ‘use climate-friendly climate techniques’(52%) received the strongest support among respondents in 50 countries. ’Promote plant-based diets’ received the lowest support (30%).

Other insights – Business engagement and news consumption

Edelman Trust Barometer

Since 2000, Edelman, a global public relations and marketing consultancy firm, has studied trust in four pillars of society: government, business, media and civil society. The Edelman Trust Barometer is one of the rare recurring surveys that already has more than 20 editions. In its  2016 edition, ‘climate change/global warming’ appeared for the first time as a societal issue. But at the time, it was not considered the most important issue in any of the 28 countries participating in the survey. Since 2020, climate change-related questions have regularly featured in the Edelman Trust Barometer, reflecting the growing importance of the issue. Since 2021, the Barometer also started conducting a yearly survey focused on climate change. The 2023 survey found a significant reduction in trust in  government, business, media and civil society “to do the right thing when it comes to climate change,” with media seeing the largest drop (-9pp).

The same survey reveals that people have the lowest level of trust in climate information coming from government leaders, CEOs, and journalists. Most respondents trust scientific experts, but the overall level of trust declined.

 

Surveys by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Since 2022, the Oxford Climate Journalism Network (OCJN), which is part of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, is conducting yearly surveys to understand patterns in climate change news consumption across the world. The surveys focus on the same eight countries from four continents.

The 2023 survey finds that on average more than half (55%) of the respondents in each country accessed climate change news and information on a weekly basis. There is a noticeable variation among the surveyed countries: the share varies from less than half in India (44%) to almost two-thirds in Germany (65%). The share of people regularly accessing climate change news rose in every country in 2023 except in Pakistan.

The same survey highlights that on average, half of the people in the surveyed countries trust news media as a source of climate news. Compared to 2022, on average, there is only a slight reduction in trust in news media, but trust significantly dropped in Germany (-11 pp) and the UK (-6pp).

The survey found a widespread concern about general misinformation. On average, 82 percent of people expressed concern in each of the countries. A very similar picture emerges when it comes to climate information. On average, 27 percent of people in each surveyed country “think they saw false or misleading information” about it in the last week. In India, France, the UK and Germany, people said they observed more misinformation about climate change than about politics or government policies.

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism conducts a yearly global survey to understand how digital news are being consumed across the world. In the 2023 YouGov survey across 46 countries for the institute, a significant share of news consumers said they were relying on various social media platforms to access news about climate change. Thirty-seven percent of Twitter and Instagram users, and 36, 35, 33 and 28 percent of YouTube, Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat users, respectively, said that they “pay close attention to climate change-related news” on these platforms.

Resources – surveys used

Sr No

Name of the Poll

Number of surveyed countries and people

Survey period

1

Open Society Barometer, September 2023

36,344 respondents from 30 countries

18 May 2023 – 21 July 2023

2

Ipsos’s 2023 Earth Day Survey, April 2023

21,231 respondents from 29 countries

20 January 2023 – 03 February 2023

3

Ipsos’s 2023 Global Trends Survey,February 2023

48579 respondents from 50 markets

23 September 2022 – 14 November 2022

4

International Monetary Fund’s Public Perceptions of Climate Mitigation Policies: Evidence from Cross-Country Surveys, February 2023

30,000 respondents from 28 countries

5 July 2022 – 11 August 2022

5

OECD’s Fighting climate change: International attitudes toward climate policies, July 2022

 

40,000 respondents in 20 countries

March 2021 – March 2022

6

PEW Research Centre’s Global Attitudes survey, March 2022

24535 respondents from 19 countries

14 February 2022 – 3 June 2022

7

UNDP’s People Climate Vote, January 2021

1.22 million respondents from 50 countries

7 October 2020 – 4 December 2020

8

World Economic Forum‘ Climate Change: severity of effects and expectations of displacement, September 2022

23,507 respondents from 34 countries

22 July 2022 – 5 August 2022

9

YouGov Survey for Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

93,000 respondents from 46 countries

January 2023 – February 2023

10

Ipsos Survey for the Oxford Climate Journalism Network (OCJN) at Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

8334 respondents from 8 countries

18 August 2023 – 31 August 2023

11

2023 Edelman Trust Barometer

32000+ respondents from 28 countries

01 November 2022 – 28 November 2022 

12

2023 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and Climate Change

13986 respondents from 14 countries

20 September 2023 – 4 October 2023

All texts created by the Clean Energy Wire are available under a “Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0)” . They can be copied, shared and made publicly accessible by users so long as they give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.

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